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What it was REALLY like to be a Playboy Bunny in the 60s

Original 1960s Playboy Bunnies have revealed what it was really like to post for the famous magazine and work at the brand’s clubs, sharing everything from memories of Hugh Hefner to the strict grooming rules they were made to follow. 

Revealing what it was really like during the early days of the brand, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Jaki Nett; Playmate Jeannie Bell and the daughter of the first Playboy centrefold have shared their experiences in a new podcast. 

The Power: Hugh Hefner, explores how Janet Pilgrim, whose real name was Charlaine Edith Karalus, helped the Playboy founder create an empire worth millions – despite only being paid around $200.   

Despite strict grooming rules and models pouring club soda inside their three-inch heels to numb the pain during eight-hour shifts, one of the models interviewed described working for the private members club as ‘nirvana’. 

Meanwhile Bell, one of the first black women to appear in Playboy Magazine, said despite Hefner showing off his spinning, vibrating bed during a tour of the mansion, he was a ‘nice, great guy’. 

The Power: Hugh Hefner, explores how Janet Pilgrim, whose real name was Charlaine Edith Karalus, helped the Playboy founder create an empire worth millions – despite only being paid around $200. Pictured, Pilgrim on the cover of Playboy in the 60s 

Hugh Hefner is pictured surrounded by 50 Playboy Bunnies in 1966 who were set to work at his new club on Park Lane, London

Hugh Hefner is pictured surrounded by 50 Playboy Bunnies in 1966 who were set to work at his new club on Park Lane, London

At 22, Charlaine Karalus became the first centrefold and non-professional model to become Playmate of the Month after meeting Hefner while working at Playboy’s corporate office as a subscriptions manager.   

‘She and Hef were very good friends, obviously more than friends,’ said Charlaine’s daughter Linda. 

‘They were kind of hanging out and he looked over to her and said “Why don’t you be in the picture?”. This magazine became what it is because of her, I think’. 

However, Linda said that Charlene needed some persuading, explaining: ‘This could take off or this could be really bad. Who knew what would happen with these pictures? I believe he had to convince her many times to do it’.  

1960s Playboy Bunny Kathryn Leigh Scott shared her experiences working for the brand in a new podcast

Playmate Jeannie Bell who was one of the first black women to appear in the magazine shared her experience in a new podcast

Revealing what it was really like during the early days of the brand, 1960s Playboy Bunny Kathryn Leigh Scott (left) and Playmate Jeannie Bell (right) have shared their experiences in a new Podcast 

Hugh Hefner arrives at London Airport from Chicago with an entourage of Playboy Bunnies in June 1966 for the opening of the London Playboy Club on Park Lane

Hugh Hefner arrives at London Airport from Chicago with an entourage of Playboy Bunnies in June 1966 for the opening of the London Playboy Club on Park Lane

Rebranding as Janet Pilgrim, Charlaine became Playboy’s original ‘girl next door’ when photographs of her in Marilyn-style hair and make-up sitting at a typewriter were published in 1955.  

‘Hef was there for moral support, he is in the background, leaning against the doorway. Obviously it shows her cleavage’, said Linda.  

‘She became very famous in Chicago and everywhere she went people knew her. Men were constantly calling her and I know she liked the attention’. 

The beginning of Hugh Hefner: How the notorious publisher founded Playboy 

Hefner was raised in the the early 50s to a conservative middle-class family in Chicago, going straight from fighting in the Second World War to college and then into marriage with his first wife, Millie. 

He split from Millie ten years later, discovering days before their wedding that she had an affair while he was fighting in the army.  

Hefner was raised in the the early 50s to a conservative middle-class family in Chicago, going straight from fighting in the Second World War to college and then into marriage with his first wife, Millie. 

He split from Millie ten years later, discovering days before their wedding that she had an affair while he was fighting in the army.  

By the time he was 30 Hefner had began having raucous parties with his friends, playing strip poker and watching porn and had quit his job at  Esquire as a copywriter. 

pose for the famou smagazine While Playboy may conjure up images of blonde models frolicking at pool parties at their California mansion in the 1990s, it all began with the publication of a new men’s lifestyle magazine in 1953. 

After scraping together a bank loan, he launched the first edition of Playboy with unpublished nude photos he had purchased of Marilyn Monroe – the actress he would later pay $75,000 to be buried next to. 

As Charlaine’s profile grew, so did subscriptions to Playboy magazine, and eight years after the magazine launched Hefner said in the interview that his empire was worth $20 million. 

The Playmate was paid ‘$50 for the first and then $75 and then $125’ – however Linda insisted that she never begrudged Hefner, leaving the spotlight to become a nurse and start a family. 

‘She really wanted to be a mom and be out of the spotlight and just be a regular person, and that’s what she got’, said Linda.  

Soon Hefner was wealthy enough to buy the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles and open his first private members club in Chicago, quickly followed by clubs in Los Angeles, Miami and New York. 

Jaki Nett arrived in California from Mississippi in 1962 straight after graduating from high school, dreaming of becoming an actress and studying theatre at university.   

In need of a job after graduation, she took advice from one of her friends to audition to become a Bunny at the Los Angeles club – but was told she was ‘too skinny’ and she vowed to gain weight and return. 

However when she was leaving the woman hiring noticed the young model was riding a motorcycle and, impressed with her form of transport, gave her another chance at the job.  

Nett, who was one of the first black women to be hired as a Playboy bunny, says she was a ‘flower child’ before her job at the club, but would soon have to adhere to the strict rules.  

‘When I was hired I was quite innocent,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t that I knew what I was getting into, and and I walked into the bunny room and was looking at these very beautiful girls. 

‘We were hired for our looks not for our brains. We were hired for an illusion, Playboy was an illusion. Walking down into the club there was the ambience, the lighting, the beautiful bunnies, everything gave this illusion of sexuality.’ 

Despite struggling to work on the door because of her dyslexia and finding it difficult to remember table orders, the determined model climbed the ranks to eventually become a ‘bunny mother’ – training new bunnies in LA.   

‘When they got to know me they would say, “You were so tough, I was so afraid”,’ she recalled. ‘I liked it that way.’ 

Hugh Hefner making a speech after arriving at Heathrow Airport on his private jet the 'Big Bunny' with 'Jet Bunnies' who were met at the airport by British Bunnies in 1970

Hugh Hefner making a speech after arriving at Heathrow Airport on his private jet the ‘Big Bunny’ with ‘Jet Bunnies’ who were met at the airport by British Bunnies in 1970

Playboy Bunnies awaiting the arrival of Hugh Hefner at Heathrow in 1966 ahead of the opening of the London Playboy Club on Park Lane

Playboy Bunnies awaiting the arrival of Hugh Hefner at Heathrow in 1966 ahead of the opening of the London Playboy Club on Park Lane

Hugh Hefner is pictured with a group of Playboy Bunnies at the grand opening of the Playboy Hotel-Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1981

Hugh Hefner is pictured with a group of Playboy Bunnies at the grand opening of the Playboy Hotel-Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1981 

‘One of the things I tell the ladies ,and I call them all ladies, is you are hired for your looks. You make your tips off your looks. If your service is bad you become ugly very quickly. 

‘You had to be able to walk around in a corset and three-inch heels for eight hours. You don’t take your shoes off, because if you take your shoes off and your foot swells, then you can’t get your shoes back on. 

‘So you take a club soda, pour it in your shoes, and you walk around your slushy feet.’ 

Kathryn Leigh Scott was 19 when she arrived from Minnesota to New York dreaming of becoming an actress. She had a scholarship to a theatre school but ‘needed a bread-and-butter job’ to pay the rent. 

She responded to an advert in the New York Times asking young women to ‘step into the spotlight’ as a Playboy bunny. 

Hugh Hefner arrives at Heathrow Airport on his private jet the 'Big Bunny' with 'Jet Bunnies' who were met at the airport by British Bunnies in 1970. Hefner is pictured with his girlfriend Barbi Benton (right)

Hugh Hefner arrives at Heathrow Airport on his private jet the ‘Big Bunny’ with ‘Jet Bunnies’ who were met at the airport by British Bunnies in 1970. Hefner is pictured with his girlfriend Barbi Benton (right)

Kathryn Leigh Scott (pictured in 1969) was 19 when she arrived from Minnesota to New York dreaming of becoming an actress. She had a scholarship to a theatre school but 'needed a bread-and-butter job' to pay the rent

Kathryn Leigh Scott (pictured in 1969) was 19 when she arrived from Minnesota to New York dreaming of becoming an actress. She had a scholarship to a theatre school but ‘needed a bread-and-butter job’ to pay the rent

‘You could wait tables, you could be a shop girl, you could be a temporary secretary in an office – but you were earning a minimum wage of $1.35 at the time, she said. 

‘At Playboy I could earn $150 working part time. That would allow me to go to classes and get tickets to Broadway shows and it was nirvana.’ 

Claiming to have met both The Beatles and Jack Nicholson, Kathryn said that she’s ‘lost count’ of all the A-listers she encountered, and how many celebrities she ‘turned down’.  

‘When I stuffed the schoolgirl part of me in the locker and put on that costume, I also assumed that glamorous persona,’ she recalled. ‘I felt like a showgirl, and that was really fun.’  

The reality of life in the Playboy mansion: Holly Madison’s memoir reveals truth about life in the 90s

Holly Madison famously exposed her relationship with the magazine editor in her 2015 memoir Down the Rabbit Hole.  

In the book, she revealed how young women were given drugs and encouraged to take part in regular orgies with Hefner in exchange for rent at the luxury mansion.

(L to R) Playboy bunny Sheila Levell, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and Playboy bunny Holly Madison

(L to R) Playboy bunny Sheila Levell, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and Playboy bunny Holly Madison

Madison was Hefner’s longest partner after moving to the mansion in 2001 aged just 21, while he was 75. 

During that time she became one of the stars of Girls Next Door, a reality show revolving around her and Hefner’s other two live-in girlfriends, Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson.

Madison was considered his ‘main girlfriend’, and openly stated she wanted to marry him and have children.

However the couple eventually broke up in 2008 after she managed to break free of her self-described ‘Stockholm Syndrome’.

Behind the scenes in the mansion, Madison said she was enduring a ‘living hell’ during which she even contemplated suicide.

In the book she details first meeting him at Hooters in 2000, when after a night out clubbing with his ‘girlfriends’, she realised that she was expected to sleep with him.  

She claimed her first encounter with Hefner was him offering her a Quaalude from a tissue in his pocket.

‘Usually I don’t approve of drugs, but you know, in the ’70s they used to call these pills ”thigh openers”,’ she claims Hefner told her.

After he brought her home from the club on the first night, she described in her book how Hefner masturbated as bunnies around him play-acted lesbian scenes while hardcore pornography played on two TV screens.

She was pushed forward as Hefner was encouraged to try the ‘new girl’ while the other women were high on the Quaaludes. 

Hefner also made regular comments about her appearance and would not let her see a therapist when she started to have mental health struggles, leaving her on the point of suicide. 

Playboy Bunnies working at the clubs had to undergo a rigorous training programme and follow a stringent rule book, written by Hugh’s younger brother Keith.  

An excerpt of the book reads: The Bunnies’ hair, nails, shoes make-up and costumes must be bunny perfect, and no Bunny is permitted to be working unless specifications are met. Demerits may be issued for carelessness in this regard. 

‘Good grooming starts with a daily bath and good deodorant, regular use of bath lotion will keep your skin soft and pretty. Bunnies may dance with patrons provided there is no close physical contact.’

But actress Kathryn enjoyed her time at the club, insisting: ‘It taught me how to send the right signals as to how I wanted to be treated in the workplace.’ 

Several of these strict rules were uncovered in feminist campaigner Gloria Steinem’s month long undercover investigation into the club.

Her investigation found that bunnies would have to pay for their costumes and make-up including mandatory fake eyelashes, were docked pay for messy hair, were investigated by undercover detectives in the club and required an internal examination for STIs. 

But several of the Bunnies asked in the first episodes of the podcast have dismissed the narrative that they were being exploited. 

Those who say they worked in the club at the same time as Steinem view their time there in a very different way. 

‘She worked in a very different world in what we saw,’ said Kathryn. ‘We were there at the same time, we experienced the same things at the same time. I can only tell you that we viewed it very differently.’  

In October 1969, Jeannie became the second black Playboy Playmate to appear in the centerfold of the magazine, the first being Jennifer Jackson, in March 1965. Jeannie later became the first black woman on the cover. 

She had been recruited after becoming the first black woman to participate in the Miss Texas Pageant, which is part of the Miss Universe competition, where she was recruited by a photogaher.   

‘I said, “Playboy has never had a black woman in there, they’re not going to pick me”,’ she said. 

‘He said: “They want you to be in the magazine”, I didn’t believe him. I said: “I’ll believe it when I see it”. 

‘I was telling all my friends in Texas, “I’m going to be in the Playboy magazine” and nobody would believe me because they’d never had a black woman in the magazine’.

Jeannie recalled visiting the Playboy mansion in LA after her shoot, where she was given a special tour by Hefner himself.  ‘I remember him in a robe and I questioned myself “Why is he in a robe?”,’ she recalled. 

‘He took me and showed me his bedroom and I thought, “That’s interesting”. So he showed me he had this round mattress and he would push buttons on the headboard and the bed would rotate around. 

‘Sometimes it would vibrate and I said “I’ve never seen a bed like this before”, he said, “This is one of a kind” and I started walking away from the room, I didn’t want to be there.’ 

When asked whether she thought he might be trying to have sex with her, she said: ‘I have no idea, I didn’t want to wait and see. But he was very nice, he was a great guy.’

Jeanie went on to have a high flying career as an actress and model, posing nude again for Playboy in the December 1979 pictorial Playmates Forever. 

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Read more at DailyMail.co.uk